Friday, January 20, 2017

Roderick Hudson

Roderick Hudson. Henry James. 1875. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Rowland Mallet had made his arrangements to sail for Europe on the first of September, and having in the interval a fortnight to spare, he determined to spend it with his cousin Cecilia, the widow of a nephew of his father. He was urged by the reflection that an affectionate farewell might help to exonerate him from the charge of neglect frequently preferred by this lady.

Premise/plot: Rowland Mallet is introduced to Roderick Hudson by his cousin Cecelia. Hudson is a sculptor from small town America. He doesn't have big dreams of being a GENIUS, he's just your ordinary guy who sculpts now and then. Mallet sees one of his pieces, and he gets super-super excited. Mallet believes--and backs up his belief with cash and the promise of more cash and even more cash--that Roderick Hudson should go to Rome, to Europe, and be SOMEBODY. Mallet meets Roderick's mother and the young woman who is her companion, Mary Garland. The two women have their doubts. Is this really what is best for Roderick? By the time the two (Roderick and Rowland) are ready to leave for Rome, Rowland is in love with Mary. The problem? Roderick announces that the two are ENGAGED essentially around the same time that Rowland realizes that he is in love with her. To be fair, Roderick has known Mary Garland for quite a while, and, Rowland has just met her. But still.

Most of the book concerns Rowland and Roderick's adventures in Europe. How does the trip change Roderick? Are the changes for the better? Does Rowland ever have any regrets or doubts? What is European society like? Can two people--reliant on one another, in obligation to one another--really be friends?

Two women feature largely into this one. Mary Garland, whom we first meet in Massachusetts, and Christina Light, whom we first meet in Italy. Though engaged to Mary, Roderick is constant...never. Christina Light is Roderick's "love" interest. And Christina Light is something special. Miss Light has essentially spent her whole life being trained--groomed--to make a wealthy match of it. She's valuable because she's beautiful. There are moments of sincere conversation when she confesses she hates the way things are, she wishes that she had the ability to choose her own path, follow her heart. Readers rarely catch exchanges of Roderick and Christina in conversation, but there are many heart-to-heart encounters with Rowland. Readers get to know Christina because of Rowland's dealings with her, her mother, etc.

My thoughts: Is Roderick capable of LOVE? That's a simple enough question, I suppose. I think the answer is no. He loves himself much too much. His EGO is extraordinary and much larger than his talent, in my opinion. His monologues are ridiculous!!!

Is Roderick mentally ill? That's a more complex question, I know. I am tempted to say DEFINITELY. Does being mentally ill excuse him in any way for his behavior--for the way he treats people, for his inability to love, to be kind, to be polite? Roderick in conversation could be so INFURIATING. I mean he was a jerk essentially. I don't think you can just blame mental illness and say you're not all...for what you say or do. (You can perhaps have more compassion and concern for those who hurt you.)

Was the ending inevitable? I definitely saw it coming. I didn't know which country perhaps, but, I knew that Roderick would...well...exit dramatically.

I definitely found this an engaging and compelling read. I didn't necessarily LOVE all the characters, obviously. Rowland was a bit blind at regards to his relationships with other characters. I don't know why he loved Roderick so unconditionally. I didn't get the idea that Rowland LIKED Roderick personally--I mean as a person. But he LOVED Roderick's artistic genius. I think Rowland also loved the idea of being the one who discovered him. I think every time Roderick's work was praised, he could go, I discovered him! I brought him to Rome! I liked Rowland best when he was talking with Christina Light and with Mary Garland. So between Rowland and Roderick, I preferred Rowland. It would be tougher to have a favorite between the two women. I really liked both. Christina is perhaps the more developed character. Mary Garland is Rowland's ideal, and, as such, I'm not sure we're seeing all there is to see. Whereas with Christina, she's presented as very, very human.

Favorite quotes:
True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out — you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.
It's rather a hard fate, to live like a saint and to pass for a sinner!
There are worse fates in the world than being loved too well.
I have an indigestion of impressions; I must work them off before I go in for any more.
Success is only passionate effort.
The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one’s ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of a room, and take boarders. 
I fancy it is our peculiar good luck that we don’t see the limits of our minds,” said Rowland.
It was the artist’s opinion that there is no essential difference between beauty and ugliness; that they overlap and intermingle in a quite inextricable manner; that there is no saying where one begins and the other ends; that hideousness grimaces at you suddenly from out of the very bosom of loveliness, and beauty blooms before your eyes in the lap of vileness; that it is a waste of wit to nurse metaphysical distinctions, and a sadly meagre entertainment to caress imaginary lines; that the thing to aim at is the expressive, and the way to reach it is by ingenuity; that for this purpose everything may serve, and that a consummate work is a sort of hotch-potch of the pure and the impure, the graceful and the grotesque.
There is nothing like matrimony for curing old-maidishness.
There are two kinds of women — you ought to know it by this time — the safe and the unsafe. Miss Light, if I am not mistaken, is one of the unsafe.
One is never so good, I suppose, but that one can improve a little. 
I am tired to death of myself; I would give all I possess to get out of myself; but somehow, at the end, I find myself so vastly more interesting than nine tenths of the people I meet. If a person wished to do me a favor I would say to him, ‘I beg you, with tears in my eyes, to interest me. Be strong, be positive, be imperious, if you will; only be something, — something that, in looking at, I can forget my detestable self!’ Perhaps that is nonsense too. If it is, I can’t help it. I can only apologize for the nonsense I know to be such and that I talk — oh, for more reasons than I can tell you! I wonder whether, if I were to try, you would understand me.
But if you suffer them to live, let them live on their own terms and according to their own inexorable needs!
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen to Roderick’s heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions. Both in gravity and in gaiety he said more than he meant, and you did him simple justice if you privately concluded that neither the glow of purpose nor the chill of despair was of so intense a character as his florid diction implied.
The moods of an artist, his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself, were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in the air when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand.
There are such things as necessary follies. 
Don’t mind the pain, and it will cease to trouble you. Enjoy, enjoy; it is your duty.
One is in for it in one way or another, and one might as well do it with a good grace as with a bad! Since one can’t escape life, it is better to take it by the hand.
We are made, I suppose, both to suffer and to enjoy. As you say, it's a mixture. Just now and here, it seems a peculiarly strange one. But we must take things in turn.
For one hour of what I have been, I would give up anything I may be!
Never mind what you have been; be something better!
One man puts his selfishness into one thing, and one into another.
When one is looking for symptoms one easily finds them.
“All that ‘s very easy to say,” Roderick went on; “but you must remember that there are such things as nerves, and senses, and imagination, and a restless demon within that may sleep sometimes for a day, or for six months, but that sooner or later wakes up and thumps at your ribs till you listen to him! If you can’t understand it, take it on trust, and let a poor imaginative devil live his life as he can!”
“I believe there is such a thing as being too reasonable. But when once the habit is formed, what is one to do?” 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. Jean Lee Latham. 1955. 251 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Nat lay very still in the dark, trying to stay awake until his big brother, Hab, went to sleep.

Premise/plot: Based on history, Latham chronicles the coming of age of Nat Bowditch. The book opens during the Revolutionary war and is set in Salem. His childhood was not easy. With the economy being what it was, with risks high, no matter how hard the family worked, the odds were against their success. One by one the boys had to drop out of school to work with their father in a struggle to survive. Nat takes this the hardest. He being a genius and having a passion for book knowledge. He's encouraged by plenty that he is destined for Harvard. But instead he becomes indentured for nine years. When he's free he'll be too old to go back to school. But he is determined--persistent. He will teach himself. Latin. French. Algebra. Trigonometry. Astronomy. Navigation. Surveying. If there is a book he can borrow he will read it, take notes, and absorb the information. Not all of his learning comes from books. There are people in his life whom he cultivates relationships with learning all he can through conversations. When he is free, he becomes a sailor--a clerk or super cargo. The learning continues. He learns about sailing, about guns, and how to get along with all sorts of people. (He also learns Spanish). He begins teaching the crew--anyone and everyone--about navigation, specifically about taking lunars--using the moon, the stars to figure out longitude. After finding hundreds if not thousands of mistakes in a navigation guide--in the tables--he thinks about writing his own book one day.

My thoughts: I probably would not have found this one interesting as a child, but the adult me found it engaging. Society is so quick to label children, I wonder what they would have made of Bowditch. He loved math because math is logical and predictable. He wasn't as fond of people finding them impossible to predict and understand. He was amazingly gifted and he learned how to teach others in a way they could understand. Loved the fact that he recognized that education empowers and gives people choices that they never would have had before. He wasn't naturally patient--who is?--but he worked hard at his people skills.

I also loved, loved, loved that he learned new languages using the New Testament. The first verse of John is quoted several times!

Favorite quotes:
We can't have freedom unless we have freedom. And that means freedom to speak our minds (91).

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, January 19, 2017


Hippopotamister. John Patrick Green. 2016. 84 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The old City Zoo was falling apart. No one was buying tickets. No one was managing the office. The habitats needed repair. The monkeys had no energy. The lion's man wasn't very regal. The walrus's smile wasn't very bright. And in the center of it all lived Red Panda and Hippopotamus.

Premise/plot: Red Panda decides to leave the City Zoo and get a job in the outside world. He comes back every few months to tell Hippo how wonderful the outside world really is. One day, Hippo tells Red Panda that he has decided to leave the zoo too. Can Red Panda help him find a job too?!

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I thought Red Panda was great fun. But I really LOVED Hippo. Seeing the two friends try dozens of jobs--with varying degrees of success--was fun. (It was a lot more fun than I expected it to be!) I really loved the ending as well. The illustrations reveal that Hippo is great at many, many things. He can wear MANY different kinds of hats well. But Red Panda has his role to play as well!

Loved the text. Loved the illustrations. I believe the target audience is the same as a more traditional early chapter book. But this one is a graphic novel or comic book.

If you love the illustrations, he shows how to DRAW both characters at the end of the book.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Utopia Drive

Utopia Drive. Erik Reece. 2016. FSG. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Cincinnati, Ohio, has held a certain significance for me since the day I stood there with my parents, as an eight-year-old in 1976, and watched the Cincinnati Reds return to the city after their seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox in what was, as my father told me then and as I still believe, the greatest World Series ever.

Premise/plot: Erik Reece chronicles his ROAD TRIP through the Eastern United States. This isn't just any road trip. He's unpacking the IDEAS behind a handful of America's historical (for the most part) Utopian communities. (I believe only one or possibly two of the communities he visited were founded in the twentieth century and still active as utopian communities.) He includes biographical sketches of some really, really free or radical outside-the-box thinkers. There's some philosophy, politics, and economics as well. (And plenty of talk about nature and preserving nature and the environment.)

The first and last chapters essentially serve as an introduction and conclusion to the road trip. The remaining chapters chronicle the trip. He visited Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Bardstown Kentucky, New Harmony, Indiana, Cincinnati, Ohio, Utopia, Ohio, Louisa, Virginia, Queens, New York, Long Island, New York, Concord, Massachusetts, Oneida, New York and Niagara Falls, Canada.

My thoughts: It was interesting. No doubt about that. Did I agree with any of the founders of various Utopian communities? I'm not sure I did. I'm okay with that. Some communities were most interested in transforming religion and spirituality. Others seemed to be more concerned with economics and social class. A few really seemed focus on turning upside down social structures like marriage and parenting. (One, for example, banned sex completely. Men and women lived completely separate lives and rarely conversed. Another, for example, promoted sex and was all about free love and "complex marriage." Both communities, however, agreed that parents should not raise their own children. That children should be raised by the community and belong to no one in particular but to everybody to a certain extent.) I did not always agree with Reece's conclusions. Reece, in my reckoning, tried to find at least one or two positive things about every utopian community. And while he discussed how they "failed," or why they "failed," he was not quick to dismiss any of the ideas as actually being impossible.

Favorite quotes:
Americans live in a world we are too ready to accept. We acquiesce too easily to the inevitability of the way things are. indeed, many of us think of our consumer culture as its own version of utopia, where we are absolved of the responsibility to question where our food, our clothes, our cellular devices, our energy come from. (Erik Reece, 5) 
Erik Reece quoting Milton Friedman, "Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." (6) 
Utopia, by definition, is a product of the imagination, and therein lies its power: it imagines something better, then calls on us to enact that vision. (Erik Reece, 10)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Kite Is Stuck

My Kite Is Stuck and Other Stories. Salina Yoon. 2017. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Oh no! My kite is stuck in the tree!

Premise/plot: My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories is the sequel to Duck! Duck! Porcupine! by Salina Yoon. This one offers young readers three new stories. The stories are "My Kite Is Stuck," "A New Friend," and "Best Lemonade Stand." In the first story, the three friends get a LOT of toys stuck in a tree. What will they do next?! In the second story, there is some disagreement on over who can and cannot be a friend. In the third story, Big Duck decides to open a lemonade stand. She thinks she has EVERYTHING she needs. Good thing Little Duck is there to help her out!!!

My thoughts: I really love these characters. I wouldn't mind a very LONG series. After all, I need a book series to cheer me up after the news that there will be no more Elephant and Piggie books. So please, Ms. Yoon, a VERY LONG SERIES! My favorite character is Little Duck. I really loved him in the first and third stories. He's so clever and so CUTE. My kind of fellow!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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